Jude Collins

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mistakes, lies and selective outrage

I love the way people use words. Take the word “mistake”.  At present it’s being used by RTÉ. They speak of “One of the gravest editorial mistakes ever made” by the national broadcaster. They’re referring, as you probably know, to the showing of a Prime Time programme where they presented as fact that a  Fr Kevin Reynolds had raped a minor and had a child by her when he was working in Kenya 30 years ago. This, despite the fact that Fr Reynolds had offered to take a paternity test prior to the programme’s airing.

Abuse of words frequently, as George Orwell liked to point out, reflects abuse of truth. What was made by RTÉ over the Reynolds programme was not a mistake, except you see getting caught out as a mistake. It was a decision. They decided to bash on regardless, very likely on the assumption that the public would lap up without question yet another case of clerical sexual abuse. They did this, knowing that the programme would destroy Fr Reynolds’s reputation and inflict mental and emotional suffering on an innocent man.  Their “mistake” wouldn’t have been unearthed if Fr Reynolds hadn’t taken them to court, and he wouldn’t have been able to take them to court if he hadn’t been supported by some decent lawyers working ‘pro bono’.

Pat Rabbitte, never a man to shirk a big word, says we need an independent inquiry to know why such an “egregious error” was made. “There is extensive public disquiet about the case and it involves the national broadcaster. Taken together, this provides the basis for the decision that was taken”. The decision, that is, to hold an inquiry.

But there wouldn’t have been any public disquiet if Fr Reynolds hadn’t pressured RTÉ by taking them to court and the facts of the case being made known.

There is a disquieting, not-too-obvious-but-still-there anti-Catholic Church strand in the Irish media. If this case does nothing else, it might give the Irish public cause to question if they’re being told the whole truth about the Catholic clergy. They’re a far-from-perfect group of people, the clergy, but I find myself wondering how many other Fr Reynolds there are out there who were denounced for sexual abuse of minors but didn’t have the good luck to have evidence that stopped his persecutors in their tracks.

And I find myself still thinking of Rabbitte’s “extensive public disquiet” and the involvement of the national broadcaster being the key elements in mounting an independent inquiry into the matter. Can you think of another recent event where there was “extensive public disquiet” and the involvement of the national broadcaster?  I can. It involved a politician who, in the course of a political debate, was accused – without evidence -  of murder and asked if he went to confession. It happened on – would you believe it? – the same programme series, and it provoked not just disquiet but seething rage, particularly north of the border. Which meant, in Rabbitte’s egregious way of thinking, it didn’t count.

It’s called selective moral indignation.  Nice mouthful, isn’t it? You should try using it next time out, Pat. Or even try thinking about it. 

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